Monday, January 08, 2007
The desire for perfection is what drives our riding. The perfect canter depart, the perfect view from the top of a hill, penning the right cow in one shot, or just getting off under your own power when the horse has other plans, any moment that leaves you smiling
has perfection written all over it.
What's wrong with that? Nothing as long as we don't lose sight of the fact that our partner in all this has his own view of the perfect moment. His, most likely, involves other horses, green grass, and maybe a scritch on the neck from a favored human. As you might have noted in my post about Zip's training issues, I lost sight of that.
But my planned hiatus turned into two weeks of forced time off from my riding "work" (what a charged word that is!) as stupidity and I shook hands and threw my back out, and the application of significant credit card action on Amazon.com and other sources put me in a new frame of mind and in the middle of a pile of training books and videos. Merry Christmas to me!
While my back healed, I watched Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling gentle a nutcase stallion, read about Linda Tellington-Jones's "Elegant Elephant", and finally settled in for the whole three-DVD set of the 2006 AQHA Road to the Horse. On sunny days (we've certainly had more than our share this winter), I went out and longed a horse or brushed one or two or did some random clicker-training. I spent a lot of time sitting in the ring on the mounting block with a horse casually standing next to me. I "worked" partly from guilt--my friend, trainer and barn manager Ellen Ryan, is an absolute motivational star when it comes to maintaining her horses' level of fitness, which is something I needed to revisit--and partly from boredom. There are only so many videos one can watch and so many books one can read during the day before one's eyes cross and one's brain turns to tapioca and runs out one's ears. And I worked from curiosity. I just had to try at least a few of the things I'd seen and read about. I'm fortunate to have six test subjects at my disposal, so test I did!
Yesterday the planets were at last in alignment, my back was healed as much as necessary, and the wind had dried up Lake Friedman at the south end of the riding ring. No more excuses. I went out to find Zip in the pasture and resume our frustrating relationship.
Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to spend the rent money watching professionals train horses in order to experience an "Ah-ha!" moment, but it worked for me. Zip has moods. They're pretty obvious, clearly signaled by the tilt of his ear, the rolling of an eye, the flagging of his tail as he bounces around me in the pasture, his outright laughter that I swear I can hear. After two weeks of nothing but ground work and pleasant but pointless interaction, I expected to spend some time convincing my boy that working is good for the soul. But no convincing was necessary. I held out my hand and did the John Lyons tick!, and lo, my horse came to me. He didn't hide behind his mother or circle the bale feeder till I was cussing. He just came. And he stood, and he only fussed a few times, and he did pretty much everything I asked. In fact, he did more. Not what I necessarily wanted, but things he wanted me to have.
We did a half-hour under saddle, then, opting to end on a positive note, I dismounted, hand-grazed him till he was dry, then took him back to the ring, minus halter and lead. For the next ten minutes my boy was so "locked on", "tuned in", "partnered up" and focused that we did what could be described as a circus act. Forward, backward, sideways, over obstacles. I was having the time of my life . . . a series of "perfect" moments I hadn't expected and wasn't looking for.
What happened, I think, is that I gave Zip something--attention, my faith and confidence in his openness, a little fun maybe--and in return he gave me what he had to give. I realized as I said goodbye at the pasture gate that I might have missed all of that if I'd been more focused on "work" and getting to perfection on a different level.
I offer this: Work is fine, and goal-directed behavior is laudable, but be sure, while you're plugging along, that you don't miss the gifts your horse is trying to give you. His perspective is different, not wrong. Give him the honor of accepting his offerings in the spirit in which they are given. As one of the clinicians on one of my new DVD's commented, "Horses don't lie. They may surprise you, but they'll never lie to you." Watch for those surprises. They're amazing!